Thesaurus > Dictionary

Some reference books are better than others. I like a good thesaurus better than a dictionary. A well-made thesaurus helps me boost my vocabulary.

I have a copy of Roget’s International Thesaurus. I also have a couple of dictionaries: Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary and a Pocket Oxford Dictionary (The pocket Oxford also has sentimental value with a note “Given to me by Mrs. Ann Porter the nice woman who lives in the flat across the hall in England.” I was visiting my grandparents in London when she gave me the book.)

The Webster’s dictionary is the lesser of the three. Its definitions are merely satisfactory and I don’t expect greatness. I like the Oxford dictionary more. It’s succinct and I usually find something interesting when I open it randomly. It’s not the giant, full Oxford dictionary, but to call it “pocket” is a stretch. My bath robe might have a big enough pocket for it, but fitting it into a pants or shirt pocket is completely impossible.

The thesaurus is much more useful. Mine has two parts. The primary text is organized into topical areas, for example “496: Taste, Tastefulness,” “970: Uncertainty” and “487: Celebration.” Each category is broken into sub-categories of related synonyms. There’s always new phrases to find. “At sixes and sevens” under Uncertainty is a new phrase for me and I like the word “finesse” that I found under Taste.

Finesse is a comforting word. It reminds me of when my parents would play bridge. They would describe a certain situation in the game and call it a finesse. One hazard of a thesaurus is that, when I find a word I don’t know, I can embarrass myself by using it improperly. For example, if I write about a bridge game, first I need to learn what finesse means to a bridge player.

The second half of the thesaurus is a dictionary. Rather than having definitions, this section links to the relevant sub-part of different categories. This dictionary offers different senses of a word. “Worthless” points to categories containing “valueless,” “disadvantageous,” “paltry,” “unworthy,” and “terrible.”

I opened the thesaurus and the word “martyrize” popped up. I had never thought of what the verb form of martyr was. The word looks weird but makes sense. However, it’s not a word I’ll find in the novels I’m reading.

A thesaurus has better rabbit holes than a dictionary.


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